Troy Farmers’ Market: Increasing Food Access in the Yaak

Five years ago, Shawna Kelsey thought she was working to increase access to healthy food in rural Montana by starting a Farmers’ Market in Troy, in the northwest corner of Montana.  Working for the Yaak Valley Forest Council, Shawna collaborated with a core group of vendors and volunteers, and that first season there were 2 vendors, and 25-50 patrons mingled in and out of the market.  

Relaxing on the lush lawn at the Market

Fast forward to 2016, where the market averaged 12 vendors and the event has become a community hub on Friday afternoons, bringing over 200 customers each week.  Shawna says kids come by in the afternoons, and locals and quite a few seasonal tourists visit with the vendors–and each other–while browsing the fruits, vegetables, and crafts for sale.  

We were excited to meet Shawna at one of AERO’s Growing Food Businesses: Opportunities Under Montana’s New Food Laws workshops held in last spring, and spoke with her recently to hear about the 2016 Farmers’ Market season and her successes and challenges with the new food policies.

The workshop helped Shawna become the go-to resource for vendors or consumers with questions about selling products, she says, instead of only having the county environmental health specialist as a source of information.  “People get excited about selling things, and it doesn’t always make sense why they can or can’t do it,” Shawna told us, “items like Kombucha and Kimchi and salsa are raising lots of questions.”  

A key piece of information Shawna gained from the workshop was that products that weren’t allowed in the past– such as spices and baking mixes — are now allowed under the new Cottage Food law.  She came up with a list of new opportunities and items for vendors to consider selling.  

Thanks to AERO’s Expo, workshops, and sustainable community, it has been easy for Shawna to network and gain support with other farmers markets, she says.  The northwestern part of Montana is considered a food desert, and folks like Shawna are working hard to encourage the culture of local foods and sustainable agriculture in the area.

Luckily, even in rural areas, there are always those that surprise and encourage us, such as the Troy market vendor who lives in town and grows a market garden on ⅛ acre.  Shawna says vendors are “hungry for knowledge” and that her vendor training series are well attended, encouraging new vendors to try their hand at selling at the Farmers’ Market.

The Troy Farmers’ Market is reducing food miles by leaps and bounds, and encouraging the community to first stop and shop from the neighborhood before heading to the big stores.  One significant success was receiving a Federal Grant in 2016 to purchase a large cider press, which became a huge attraction during apple harvest time.  Shawna estimates that in 4 hours over 75 gallons of cider were made with the press!   

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The new cider press purchased with a federal grant

A quick browse of their very beautiful and informative facebook page can give you a peek into what this amazing group has accomplished.  We’re happy to highlight the Troy Farmers’ Market, which is located at the lowest elevation in the state!  It’s worth a drive to visit the market, which occurs on Fridays afternoons from 3:30 06:30 pm, June – September on the lawn of the Troy Museum.

Advocating for Clean Energy in the 2017 Legislative Session

AERO Energy Task Force Chair Jim Baerg attended legislative session meetings this week to testify on multiple bills affecting net metering and clean energy in Montana. Check out Jim’s write up below. Links are included to other great organizations and AERO partners working towards clean energy initiatives during the session and throughout the year.
From Jim Baerg:
I went to Helena Monday, January 9, with a carload of Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC) people, including Ben Reed, to testify on HB52 and HB34.  I also visited with Brian Fadie, who is Montana Environmental Information Center‘s (MEIC) lobbyist, Jeff Fox, of Renewable NorthWest, Adam Haight, NPRC’s lobbyist, and Andrew Valainis, the new ED at Montana Renewable Energy Association (MREA).
HB52 would grandfather in current rates for existing net metering customers. HB34 would allow government buildings in MT to install up to 250 kW systems, which is an increase over the current 50kW.
These two bills came out of the Interrum ETIC Committee which had been meeting over the last two years to sort out the conflict between the utilities and the Renewable Energy people over Net Metering.  The large issues between these two parties weren’t resolved, but they were able to put together these two bills.
So it was a pleasant surprise that NorthWestern Energy’s only opposition was to HB34.  They were joined by MDU. If HB34 is passed, there is good potential for a lot of big systems to be installed around the state, losing a lot of revenue for the utilities. Governments are building owners and historically have been pretty supportive of renewables.
Everyone else in the room, and the room was packed, was in favor of both bills. The testimony was substantial and informed, so I’m optimistic.
The underlying fight is over NWE’s defining of the problem with Net Metering.  They say that they pay retail rates for solar electricity, when they should be paying wholesale.  This amounts to a subsidy of rich customers by less well off customers.  It’s a very simple, politically effective argument. The real issue for them is that they are resisting competition, and lost revenues if others can generate electricity.  This issue has been studied in detail around the country in the last few years.  I presented a chart showing results of all 16 studies, which on average calculate that rooftop solar provides 16.35 cents per kWh of benefits to the system, to society and to the environment.
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Republican Represenative Dan Zolnikov from Billings, who is the chair, sponsored both bills and supported them pretty vigorously. He seems to have a libertarian, free market perspective and repeatedly brought up the monopolistic status of the utilities. I was encouraged by his independence, arguments and persuasiveness.
Tuesday, SB1 and SB7 are up for consideration by the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee. SB1 mandates advanced dual meters with communication capabilities to the utilities on PV systems and potential utility control of output.  SB7 prohibits renewable systems from subsidizing non-renewable customers.  All this depends on the definition of the costs and benefits of renewables to the the system. There was some talk, including by Zolnikov of having the PSC resolve this issue by doing a study which would kick the can down the road..
I asked Adam Haight, NPRC’s lobbyist, if they needed support today on these two bills.  He said that the enviro lobbyists would be there to testify and that there will be more appropriate times in the process to get additional testimony.
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Other news:  NPRC is pushing PACE financing for energy conservation and renewables. This is a terrific solution to the cost barrier  and has been enacted in over 30 states.  Adam said that the Governor is strongly supportive, but wants to trade away the renewable funding side of the bill and keep conservation funding.  Ben Reed got pretty upset over that and pushed on Adam pretty hard.  Here’s some info on PACE.
Personally, I think that getting the PACE enabling legislation passed is a very high priority.  Please join me in strongly supporting this bill.
One of the points I made yesterday is that renewable energy, as a technology, has reached inevitable proportions and momentum world wide. There is a transition to be made and we need to work together, all parties, in search of the best solutions.  Just meeting the needs of a monopoly and out of state owners is not sufficient nor wise.
Please join AERO over the next several months to support our efforts promoting sane energy policy.  It’s pretty easy, interesting, and what citizens are meant to do in a democracy.
Best wishes in 2017
Jim

Abundant Montana Directory is Live! Password protected listings, new categories, and easy to use!

While you are cozy in your pajamas this winter, you can update your farm or business information in the greatest {ALWAYS FREE} marketing tool for local producers in Montana, the ABUNDANT MONTANA directory!

Montana producers, businesses and Farmers’ Market managers let AERO know that they wanted their own way to to keep their Abundant listings up-to-date and current.  They asked for it, they got it!  Abundant’s new password-protected user form, along with other recent updates, allow you to manage your own listing, and help tourists, consumers, and visitors easily find information as to where and what local products are available in Montana.  The upgrades are funded through  a grant from the USDA’s Farmers’ Market Promotional Program.

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Carrots (and kids) grow great in Montana! (photo from J Heinert)

AERO has been working with web developers Axiom and Gage Cartographics to implemenupdates.  We have created a tutorial and are planning weekly webinars to help users.  

Exciting Changes for Users and Listing Owners

New and existing Abundant listing owners will be able to add, update and expand their information and immediately have it published in the directory.  Changes include:  an expanded product listmore in-depth CSA information, the ability to upload numerous pictures and videos, and safety checks to ensure information is correctly entered.  

For producers wanting to know if they are getting traffic to their listings, an analytic tracker has been incorporated also, which will show how many “views” your listing has received!

A new calendar system allows listing owners to add upcoming events hosted by your farm or business!  For example, a beginning beekeeper can now submit their basic information, and update it as their business and products evolve.  And they can put an open house onto the events calendar for all to see!

We realized new categories needed to be added to keep up with the dynamic menu of food and agriculture opportunities Montana has to offer, so now included are new category descriptors  such as predator-friendly, pickled products, and CSA information.  Agritourism is becoming a popular adventure (and income generator!), so we have expanded that information as well.  

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Map of all listings in Abundant directory

More updates and opportunities will be coming to the Abundant Montana Online Directory soon. Keep checking back at  http://aeromt.org/abundant/

The goal of these database updates is to help producers take charge of their own listing; we’d love to get your feedback and thoughts! Give us a call in the office or email Jackie at jheinert@aeromt.org.

An Update on the Dried Herb Question from the Growing Food Business Workshop Series.

Earlier this summer, AERO was fortunate to interview Lindy Dewey at SpiritWorks Herb Farm and Healing Arts Sanctuary. Lindy owns a successful commercial dried herb business south of Whitefish, in the midst of a beautiful forest and garden.  You can read the SunTimes article, here.

Lindy attended the Growing Food Business Workshop series AERO put on in early 2016, where Montana’s recent Cottage Food Law changes were discussed. Some specifications were vague, so AERO began working with spirtworksDepartment of Public Health and Human Services officials and Flathead County sanitarians to determine the requirements for commercial herb-drying.

After several weeks of follow up emails and discussions, AERO has compiled a document with Ed Evanson of Food and Consumer Safety, DPPHS to clarify Dried Herbs and the Cottage Food Law.  The quick summary is dried herbs are exempt at retail, so there is no need for cottage food registration.  If wholesaling, they need a license.  In either case the goal is a pathogen free product.

Please visit the “Growing Food Businesses” forum at www.mtfoodeconomy.org for more information, or you can find the document, here.

Letters from the AEROSHIP: Program Manager Kaleena Miller Introduces Herself

Greetings AERO Enthusiasts!

My name is Kaleena Miller and I’ve recently joined the AERO staff as a program manager. Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself and to share my vision for my work with you. I grew up in a suburban community sixty miles north of New York City, spending as much time as possible in the outdoors, be it hiking, skiing, or camping. I incorporated my appreciation and interest in the natural environment with my studies in undergraduate and graduate school. After completing my degrees in Environmental Economics and Environmental Policy, I fulfilled one of my dreams of moving west and settled into Butte, America.  Five years later, I find myself continuing to develop my environmental passion both personally and professionally, and here I am at AERO!

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Kaleena Miller (far right) presenting to AmeriCorps members at Carroll College alongside Energy Corps members.

As I look forward into AERO’s future, I imagine the long roads between Montana communities feeling shorter as technology and web based platforms provide us ever increasing opportunities to connect with each other and feel more a part of one big community.  That is what I’d like to move towards in my work at AERO, a systems based approach to sustainable development, in our homes, in our communities, and throughout our expansive state. I look forward to engaging AERO members across the state, listening to communities’ needs and wants and translating them into AERO programming. I hope to contribute to the rich history and experience of this organization for years to come.   

I’m looking forward to meeting each and every one of you!

Kaleena Miller

Program Manager

kmiller@aeromt.org

406-443-7272

 

Energizing Montana!

Our first two clean energy tours were a success! On June 11th and 18th I took a trip to Bozeman and Hamilton, respectively, to give folks in these two towns a tour of some of the clean energy projects which have been completed in the local community. AERO has a history of putting on these tours to connect local home and business owners to solar installers and funding organizations. These tours were a continuation of that history, although the last tour was five years ago.

The Bozeman tour was rather nerve-wracking: after only having one registrant two days before the event, I was close to calling it off to reschedule. Luckily, some last minute registrants came together and we had a nice turn-out of community members . The highlight of this tour was a 5 home micro-development built by Ed Adamson. A quirky, but highly intelligent home builder based out of Bozeman. Ed was able to give us an in-depth look at his home, featuring solar pv, solar hot water, recycled steel as framing for the structure, and passive solar incorporated into the whole project. But this was just the exterior of the home; Ed led us through his house, which featured more of the recycled steel he had welded and shaped himself. Poured concrete flooring with radiant heat embedded provides the home with warmth both from the solar hot water and thermal gain through his passive solar design. Ed included plans to add a wind turbine to the top of the home as well. Finally, Ed had stuccoed every house in the development himself, using locally sourced materials and a European style finish. Ed’s motivation for this project was to create housing that had character, but could be constructed relatively easily, while providing eco-friendly shelter for families. When we finished up at the micro-development, we took a short bike ride down to Bozeman Brewing Company using the amazing Bozeman trail system. When we arrived Todd Scott took us up to the top of the tasting room, where Harvest Solar had installed a 50 Kw Solar array, providing a good amount of the energy of the brewery. When on the roof, Brad Van Wert of Harvest Solar and John Bailey of Thunderbird Development gave us a more in-depth, technical look at the solar array. When the tour was completed we all got a quick look at the brewery and beer!

The Hamilton tour had a slightly different focus, the main components of the tour being Ravalli Electric Cooperative’s community solar project, Valley Solar and Homestead Organics.

Starting out at Valley Solar, the installer of the system was able to give us a more technical breakdown of the array. It was interesting to see a larger scale project from what we had seen in the past. It is also a good option for homeowners who don’t have optimal exposure to install. By purchasing panels at the site, you receive a credit on your next electricity bill but don’t have to worry about installing all of the system on your own home. We next took a trip through town to Homestead Organics, a small organic farm with a diverse set of sustainable energy and agricultural systems. The whole farm was great to see, and we also got a look at the new processing facility being installed for the poultry coop. (Stay tuned for more info on that from AERO as well!) The farm has three solar arrays, two for powering homes and one for cooling a greenhouse with a fan. The cutest part of the tour had to be getting to hold the baby La Mancha goats! The furry creatures were very playful and curious. Once we wrapped things up at the farm, we took a bike ride into town using the trail that runs all the way from Hamilton to Missoula! In town, we got to see the solar arrays on both Higherground Brewing and Bitter Root Brewery. While having  lunch at Bitter Root we took a short amount of time to talk about AERO’s new financing page which you should check out here

We hope you can join us for our last three tours this summer in the Flathead on July 9th, Helena on July 17th and Billings on July 30th! Stay tuned for updates.

Healthy School Foods On the Hill

by Patti Armbrister, AERO Board Member

Four Montana representatives visited their Members of Congress in Washington, D.C. along with nearly 90 people from around the country who traveled to the nation’s capital to advocate for healthy school food on Tuesday, February 23rd.

The team of advocates from Montana met with Representative Zinke’s staff, Senator Daines’ staff, and Senator Tester and his staff on Capitol Hill.

Congress has been working on legislation to reauthorize the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs and several other child nutrition programs. In January, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bipartisan child nutrition reauthorization bill, officially called the “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016.”

The team from Montana asked our Congressmen to support legislation to increase funding for school kitchen equipment improvements, as well as USDA Farm to School Grants for Farm to School programs, and to support science-based nutrition standards for healthy school food for kids.

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PEW Charitable Trust Menu at the Senate. The Hinsdale School Food Service provided their best Montana Lentil Hummus recipe, and the Boulder School’s favorite kale chips were enjoyed on the menu in the DC.

All children deserve to grow up healthy, and school meal programs are successfully providing millions of students with nutritious meals and snacks each day. Research shows that the standards are working: students have many healthy options now, and they are choosing and eating more fruits, vegetables, and nutritious entrees. School cafeterias are classrooms where students develop skills and habits that help them lead healthier lives. We demand the best for our kids in every other classroom; the cafeteria should be no different.

The healthy school food advocates encouraged our Congressmen and Congresswomen to support School Kitchen Infrastructure Needs and Training for School Food Service Personnel by co-sponsoring the School Food Modernization Act (S.540/H.R. 3316). Most districts in our state and across the nation have significant needs for new kitchen equipment and more training opportunities to prepare their workforce to serve healthier meals and snacks. Since 2009, Congress has recognized the need for providing schools with additional resources for school kitchen equipment. USDA Equipment Grants are working at providing schools with equipment like combination ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and other equipment that allow schools to better serve nutritious meals.

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Patti Armbrister (FFA, Agriculture Educator and F2S Coordinator in Hinsdale), Maria Pace (Superintendent of Schools in Boulder), Senator Jon Tester, Ginny Kirby (Bigfork School District Food Service Director) and Kirsten Gerbatsch (FoodCorps Montana Alumna) meet with Senator Tester in his office in Washington D.C.

About the Advocates

Patti Armbrister – Patti is the FFA Advisor / Ag Ed Teacher in Hinsdale, MT. She works closely with the food service staff and writes grants on their behalf. Patti’s dedicated to galvanizing positive change in Hinsdale. She has been influential in the school garden program, outdoor education, local food, serving garden produce in the school meals, and reducing food waste.

Ginny Kirby – Ginny is the Bigfork School District’s Food Service Director. She started in Bigfork three years ago and when she jumped into her role, she really embraced sourcing local foods from the Flathead Valley – everything from local beef to Flathead cherries.

Maria Pace – Maria is the Principal and Superintendent of Boulder Elementary School District. She is a true champion of local and healthy school food options. Boulder has been a FoodCorps service site for 4 years and Maria has been incredibly supportive and involved as a co-site supervisor.

Kirsten Gerbatsch – Kirsten was the FoodCorps Montana Fellow for 2 years, coordinating the statewide FoodCorps program, which is part of a national service organization focused on farm to school programs. Now as a FoodCorps alumna, she wanted to make sure Montana was part of the national conversation about healthy school food. Passionate about policy advocacy at all levels, Kirsten works for the Montana Democratic Party and M+R Strategic Solutions.